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Shell Key restrictions okayed

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000


CLEARWATER -- Pinellas County commissioners approved a plan Tuesday night that they hope will allow the woodstork and watercraft to co-exist on fragile Shell Key.

The sandy beaches along the 180-acre barrier island west of Tierra Verde attract boaters, sunbathers and swimmers whose interest sometimes collide with those of the island's wildlife.

The Shell Key Management Plan, eight months in the making, is designed to balance those interests.

Among its recommendations:

Dogs and people are prohibited from the island's central 98 acres, where at least 122 species of birds nest or rest. Visitors and overnight campers are limited to the north and south extremes of the island.

Alcohol is banned from the island.

Much of the water east of the island, where sea grass beds lie, is off-limits to boats with internal combustion engines. Sailing, poling, rowing and trolling motors are still allowed.

A committee of boaters, environmentalists, nearby residents, county and state staff and law enforcement developed the plan.

Those who attended Tuesday's meeting at the county courthouse in Clearwater said the plan was not perfect, but most agreed it was a fair balance between recreation and controversy.

"It would seem to me the restrictions in this management plan are the least we should do, " said Libby Burke, a Palm Harbor resident and boat owner. "I think it's a valuable resource, and we should be trying to protect it. We only have so many nesting beaches, and this is one of them."

Shell Key ranks second in the state as a nesting site for shore birds. Fifteen of the bird species on the island are listed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as endangered, threatened or a species of special concern.

The 1,600-acre preserve around Shell Key also attracts bottlenose dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles and manatees.

- The entire Shell Key management plan is online at www.co.pinellas.fl.us/bcc.

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